Myth No. 12 - Petrolatum in lip care
I grew up swearing by a certain blue-labelled petroleum jelly to soothe my dry, chapped lips...that is, until I learned about its potential dangers from my natural skincare formulation certification training. The knowledge that I unravelled and am about to share with you, had me stop all use of petrolatum products in my household immediately, especially since my toddler loved putting random things into her mouth - I just couldn't take the risk.
Let's dive a bit into the terminology and origin to start. Petrolatum is synonymous with petroleum jelly, and it is derived from crude oil that was originally the by-product of the petroleum manufacturing process - actually, it was oil that was found building up inside oil rigs, to be precise. This crude oil is refined through multiple distillation processes, before it ends up as the content of those blue-labelled tubs. Because of the color of the jelly, it is also referred to as white petrolatum.
If you've ever applied petrolatum, you'll know it does wonders for locking in moisture - because its paraffin-like waxy material is a perfect occlusive - moisture cannot penetrate through - but by the same token, it also cannot enter in to provide hydration. And for our lips, where there are no oil glands to retain moisture naturally, a combination of humectants, emollients and occlusives is needed to provide proper hydration and protection. Check out the full ingredients list for our lip balms to identify how this combination of properties come into play in our formulations.
Beyond its limitation from the lack of moisturizing properties, the primary reason why petrolatum should be avoided in lip care goes back to its chemical composition and refinement process. Mineral oils are composed of complex hydrocarbons that comprise of mineral oil saturated hydrocarbons (MOSH) and mineral oil aromatic hydrocarbons (MOAH). Depending on the level of refinement the mineral oil undergoes as it is transformed into petroleum jelly, the MOSH or MOAH that remain in the end product may cause liver toxicity or be carcinogenic. Cosmetic-grade mineral oil is supposed to undergo sufficient refinement to be free from MOAH, and contain only low risk MOSH; however, there have been doubts raised as to whether the refinement requirements are fully and consistently met, as unlike the EU, there is no mandatory disclosure of the full refining history of these products in Canada. From this lack of transparency, it really leaves the judgement to ourselves as end consumers based on our individual risk tolerance. In my personal case, knowing there is a wide range of proven 100% safe, effective and natural lip care options available, the decision to abandon petrolatum was a rather simple one.
Finally, the reason I focus this article on lip products as opposed to the use of petrolatum in other body parts is because MOSH and MOAH present danger only when ingested, as mineral oils cannot be absorbed by the skin.